The musical "Fiddler on the Roof" premiered on Broadway in 1964.
Shortly thereafter, Father George Johnson became intrigued by the lead role of Tevye, a poor Jewish milkman trying to bring up his family in Tsarist Russia in 1905.
"I have been familiar with 'Fiddler' for a very, very, very long time," Johnson said. "It was something that I always said, that I would like to do 'Fiddler' some time, particularly the role of Tevye. But I never thought I would get the chance to do the role."
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Father George Johnson plays the musical’s lead character, Tevye.
It's been nearly 50 years since "Fiddler" debuted, and the musical has long since become ingrained in pop culture, but Johnson - a Russian Orthodox priest at St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church in Johnstown - has finally landed his dream role.
Johnson will tackle the role when Cresson Lake Playhouse presents "Fiddler on the Roof" at the Loretto theater, beginning at 8 p.m. Thursday. The show also will be presented at 8 p.m. June 21-22 and 25-29 and July 2, 3, 5 and 6. There will be 2 p.m. matinee shows on June 23 and 30.
By coincidence, CLP's version of "Fiddler" will be directed by Marina Johnson of Altoona - Johnson's daughter. And the director made sure that no one suspected nepotism when her father tried out.
If you go
What: "Fiddler on the Roof"
When: 8 p.m. Thursday to June 22, June 25 to 29 and July 2, 3, 5 and 6; 2 p.m. June 23 and 30
Where: Cresson Lake Playhouse, Loretto
Tickets: $17 for adults and $10 for students under age 18. Call 472-4333 for tickets
"I told them that someone was coming to audition but I wasn't going to tell them who," she said. "So he came in to audition and someone leaned over to me and said, 'I want him [for the part].
"It wasn't until later that I told them, 'He's my father.'"
The team of father and daughter couldn't be more apt for "Fiddler on the Roof." The story, based on "Tevye and his Daughters" by Sholem Aleichem, follows Tevye and his wife, Golde, as they try to raise their five daughters in the Jewish traditions. But the three oldest girls disturb their parents - particularly Tevye - by fighting the custom of arranged marriages and breaking tradition to find their own husbands.
"Tevye, to me, always was a very complex character," the elder Johnson said. "Tevye is trying to be pious. He wants to be a scholar in the religious sense of that term - meaning to know the scriptures. He typically gets everything wrong, but that's all right. He then becomes a man who, in trying to be pious, is stuck dealing with the world changing all around him."
The original Broadway production, starring Zero Mostel as Tevye, was a smash hit and was, for a time, the longest running show in Broadway history. It won nine Tony Awards, including best featured awards for both Mostel and Maria Karnilova as Golde. The show has had four Broadway revivals since it closed in 1972 and was adapted into an Academy Award-winning film in 1971.
At Cresson Lake, Tevye's wife will be played by Tracy Ingold of Cresson, who says she isn't much like the bombastic Golde.
"She's definitely not your stereotypical wife who knows her place," she said. "At the time period, men and women are very separated and the woman is very passive. Golde is definitely not that. Tevye likes to think he's in charge, but she has to come out and put him in his place.
"I've had to kind of embrace that kind of loud, in charge person."
The show's iconic songs - such classics as "Tradition," "Sunrise, Sunset" and "If I Was a Rich Man" - have been embraced far beyond the stage. The popularity of the songs means that everyone seems to have their favorite.
"My favorite over the many years always was 'If I Was a Rich Man," Father Johnson said. "It was one that was always very special to me. But all the songs that Tevye gets to sing are very enjoyable."
Ingold prefers a lesser known number.
"I do a duet with Tevye called 'Do You Love Me?,' she said. "It's one of my favorite songs in the show. They've been in an arranged marriage for 25 years ... He looks at me and says, 'Golde, do you love me?' and she says 'What are you talking about?' ... And they discover that, yes, they do love each other."
The small stage at Cresson Lake has offered some challenges for the show's director.
"It's hard because the cast is supposed to be a lot larger than we can make it, because we just can't fit them on that stage," Marina Johnson said. "It's a nice challenge to adapt something to such a unique and intimate space."
And the choreography, originated by Broadway legend Jerome Robbins, was made for a much larger space.
"There are two main group numbers and it's hard to fit everyone on the stage without hitting the audience," Marina Johnson said, with a laugh. "But sometimes as a director your cast surprises you, and I was surprised at how well they're doing with the choreography."
Everyone agrees that the cast has been working very hard to get the show right
"I am hopeful that people will enjoy it because the cast is working hard," Father Johnson said.
"We have a very good group of people in the cast. I believe we'll be presenting a first-class production of the show."
Mirror Staff Writer Keith Frederick is at 946-7466.